New Pulmonary Test Improves Health and Performance of Horses

The North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine recently began offering a new non-invasive test to detect pulmonary problems in horses.

NC State is one of only two sites in the United States able to perform this test. Tufts University in Boston is the other location. Veterinarians use the procedure to detect recurrent airway obstruction.

"Recurrent airway obstruction is similar to asthma in humans. It’s a pretty big problem with horses. Between 22 and 50 percent of thoroughbred and standardbred horses have inflammatory airway disease," said Dr. Sarah Gardner, assistant professor of clinical sciences and head of the new testing service. Recurrent airway obstruction includes inflammatory airway disease, heaves and summer pasture-associated obstructive pulmonary disease.

The test, which involves placing a breathing mask over the horse’s mouth and nostrils, works on the principles of forced oscillatory mechanics as a way of measuring the airflow and lung function of the horse. The new test is non-invasive, unlike older tests that required the horse to wear a mask, as well as to swallow a small balloon-like catheter.

Gardner said the new test will give veterinarians objective and quantitative data that will more accurately determine the proper treatment regimens. Treatment therapies may include inhaled steroids or other anti-inflammatory medications and bronchodilators. "That will result in a better quality of life and increased performance for the horse," Gardner said. "The testing is particularly helpful in diagnosing horses with inflammatory airway disease that may only have clinical signs of exercise intolerance and cough."

Horses must be transported to the vet school for the test. The procedure is $150 with a free re-check to monitor responses to treatment therapies. For more information, contact the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Equine Medicine Service at 919/513-6640.

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